MLB: American League East Preview

Kyle Scudilla


2006 Record: 97-65

Despite all the chatter about Alex Rodriguez’s opt-out clause and the embattled third baseman’s personal relationship with the team’s captain, Derek Jeter, life moves on for the perennially-contending Yankees. With an always-boiling boss in George Steinbrenner, what could be Joe Torre’s last season at the helm and the aforementioned A-Rod situation, the pressure to bring rings back to the Bronx is about as high as ever.

Key Additions: SP Andy Pettitte, SP Kei Igawa, 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, RP Luis Vizcaino

Key losses: OF Gary Sheffield, OF Bernie Williams, SP Randy Johnson, SP Jaret Wright

X-Factor: SP Carl Pavano. The Yankees feel pretty good about their top three pitchers Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina and Pettitte, but how far they go may depend on how the bottom of the rotation fares. This is the make or break year for Pavano, who has started just 17 games since signing a four-year, $40 million contract with the Yankees in 2005. Yankee fans finally saw Pavano earn a win in an impressive start against the Twins, but whether he can sustain his success could be a key to the Yanks’ season.

Don’t be surprised if … Robinson Cano wins his first of multiple batting titles in 2007.

2007 Outlook: The lineup is stacked, Bobby Abreu’s in the Bronx for a full season and they’ve still got that guy Rivera in the bullpen, so they should have enough to grab a playoff spot in the highly competitive American League once again. However, the postseason, which at times seemed like a cakewalk in the days of Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez, has proved to be a big struggle for the latest editions of the Yankees. The timely hitting (or, mystique and aura, if you will) that they’ve sorely lacked in the last few Octobers will need to reappear if the Bombers hope to return to the Fall Classic. — K.S.


2006 Record: 86-76

After a disappointing third-place finish in the AL East last season, in which the Red Sox finished behind the Toronto Blue Jays and 11 games back from the division champion New York Yankees, Boston has taken a page out of its division rival’s playbook this offseason, increasing its payroll to $160 million while making its first foray into the Japanese market. With the negotiation fee and the contract, the Red Sox spent $103 million on Daisuke Matsuzaka before he threw his first major league pitch.

Key Additions: SS Julio Lugo, RF J.D. Drew, SP Daisuke Matsuzaka

Key Losses: RP Keith Foulke, 3B Mark Loretta

X-Factor: SP Daisuke Matsuzaka. Going 108-60 with a 2.95 ERA in Japan, Dice-K has the potential to garner 15-plus wins and 200-plus strikeouts for the Red Sox’s strong starting rotation. With four strikeout pitches, a mid-90s fastball, power curveball, change-up and split finger (don’t forget the much-rumored gyroball), Matsuzaka could be the difference-maker the Red Sox need to climb atop the powerful AL East.

After all the money Boston has spent on Dice-K, his performance could determine failure or success this season.

Don’t be surprised if … Boston wins the AL East or the AL Wild Card.

2007 Outlook: Boston’s offense and starting rotation make the Red Sox one of the most dangerous teams in the American League. Outfielder Manny Ramirez and designated hitter David Ortiz should each hit 40 home runs and bring in more than 100 RBIs. With Jonathan Papelbon’s recent decision to move back into the closer role, Boston is a major threat to win the AL East and possibly make a World Series appearance. — M.P.


2006 Record: 87-75

The Blue Jays spent a lot of money going into 2006 and shook up the AL East last season by beating out the Red Sox for second place in the division, the first time the division standings changed from the typical order of New York, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay since 1998. To add another big bat to their formidable lineup, the Jays added future Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas, but with a couple key pitchers going south of the border in free agency, Toronto is hoping it has enough to stay in the arms race in the East.

Key Additions: DH Frank Thomas, SS Royce Clayton, OF Matt Stairs, SP John Thomson

Key Losses: SP Ted Lilly, OF Frank Catalanotto, C Bengie Molina, RP Justin Speier

X-Factor: SP Gustavo Chacin. The 26-year-old lefty had a solid 2005 season (13 wins, 3.72 ERA), but he took a huge step backward last season, struggling mightily at times before landing on the DL with an elbow injury. After missing a couple months, he bounced back to have a nice September. For the Blue Jays to have enough pitching to stay in the race, Chacin will need to have a healthier and improved season as the No. 3 starter behind Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett.

Don’t be surprised if … Alex Rios becomes a hot name in trade rumors when the Blue Jays are unable to match last year’s pitching staff.

2007 Outlook: With names like Wells, Glaus, Thomas, Rios and Overbay carrying the sticks in Toronto, Jays’ fans should be treated to plenty of nights of offensive fireworks at the Rogers Centre, but the question lies in the seemingly downgraded pitching staff. While Boston improved its staff, Toronto lost a dependable innings-eater in Lilly and a quality set-up man in Speier. The Blue Jays will be in the hunt, but expect them to land back in their usual third-place nest. — K.S.


2006 Record: 70-92

Once again, Orioles fans were treated to meaningless games in September during the 2006 season. In an attempt to change history, the Orioles tried to attract several big-name free agents to Baltimore this past winter. Instead, they had to settle for a handful of marginal players and every free-agent middle reliever known to man. It doesn’t look like much will change in 2007, so expect there to be more curses on hated owner Peter Angelos than cheers for the team on the field.

Key Additions: LF Aubrey Huff, OF Jay Payton, SP Steve Trachsel, SP Jaret Wright, RP Chad Bradford, RP Jamie Walker, RP Danys Baez

Key Losses: RP LaTroy Hawkins, SP Russ Ortiz

X-Factor: RF Nick Markakis. There are no questions about Markakis. After a slow start to last year’s rookie season, Markakis pounded out 14 homers and 41 RBIs after the All-Star Break. It was the type of production that the Orioles expected from their top prospect and have rewarded him this season by moving him up to the third spot in the order. Most likely, Markakis will have a breakout season in 2007 similar to the one Matt Holliday had for the Rockies last year.

Don’t be surprised if … Baltimore fans are looking forward to Ravens training camp by June.

2007 Outlook: This is one of the few teams in the major league that has no hope for the upcoming season. They lack the personnel to compete with the loaded Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays and don’t even have young players like the Devil Rays do to generate any sort of excitement. The offense will be strong behind Markakis, Tejada and Brian Roberts, but unless pitching coach Leo Mazzone can make pitchers like Steve Trachsel look like Greg Maddux, this team will be dead in the water by the All-Star Game. To make matters worse, a slow start will only increase Miguel Tejada’s desire to be traded to a contender. — D.C.


2006 Record: 61-101

On the verge of the 10th season of Devil Rays baseball, it’s safe to say that the franchise has failed worse than inviting Pacman Jones to your upcoming birthday party. The following statement has been used to describe every Devil Rays team since the first season and once again applies here: Tampa Bay has a lot of talent on its roster and looks it is headed in the right direction. Perhaps this will be the year its play proves it critics wrong.

Key Additions: 3B Akinori Iwamura

Key Losses: None

X-Factor: 3B Akinori Iwamura. The Devil Rays quietly signed Japanese third baseman Akinori Iwamura this offseason without the hype given to fellow countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka. Iwamura, who hit 32 home runs last year in Japan, will add power and experience to a young, but talented, Devil Rays lineup. The versatile Iwamura can play anywhere in the infield and has the offensive tools to become one of the better hitters in the division. If he plays like he did in Japan, the Devil Rays may have just made the best signing in their short and unsuccessful franchise history.

Don’t be surprised if … the Devil Rays have the worst bullpen ever.

2007 Outlook: From Scott Kazmir to Carl Crawford to Delmon Young, there is a lot of young talent on the Tampa Bay roster. However, the negatives clearly outnumber the positives for the constantly rebuilding Devil Rays. Outside of staff ace Kazmir, Tampa may not have another pitcher on its roster that could be a member of any other major league team. With so much potential on offense, the Devil Rays will be, at the very least, a fun team to watch. A winning record is clearly out of reach, but Tampa Bay should improve on its 61 wins from last season. — D.C.